PHILADELPHIA (U-WIRE) — Three years ago, no one could have imagined that U.S. relations with Cuba would soon return to the forefront of international news.
After the escalating confrontation of the early 1960s that drew in the Soviet Union and nearly led to nuclear war, and the guerrilla wars between U.S.- and Cuban-backed forces in Africa and Central America in the 1980s, Cuba faded out of view. With the collapse of the Eastern bloc went 85 percent of the country’s trade, leaving the isolated socialist system and ordinary Cubans to fight for their lives.
Yet, regardless of one’s politics, nobody can deny the Caribbean island once again occupies a prominent role in world affairs, often attracting more media attention here than Yugoslavia, Iraq, China, Israel or Britain.
Let’s consider the events of the last few years. The massive state funeral of legendary revolutionary Che Guevara, on the 30th anniversary of his death in October 1997, accelerated a revival of interest in his life and Latin-American radicalism, even in the United States. Three months later, Pope John Paul II’s visit had all North American eyes turned to the spectacle of a poor, yet proud and defiant people who seemed far less afraid to dissent than our leaders had led us to believe.
This year has witnessed the introduction into our Congress of multiple bills aimed at easing the decades-old blockade of the Cuban economy. And now the custody battle over a 6-year-old boy has mushroomed into a full-scale confrontation and caused the first spontaneous anti-U.S. protests in Havana in years.
What all these events have in common, I contend, is a nagging fear on the part of the prophets of the New World Order — politicians, pundits, business people and the military — that there are places on the planet beyond their control. Twice this decade, Congress has tightened the screws on the blockade against Cuban trade, even threatening other countries (mostly Western European powers) that dare to invest there.
Yet, Cuba’s economy has been growing steadily since 1994, and at current rates, production will match 1989 levels within the next couple of years. For adventurous Canadians or Western Europeans, or Americans not afraid to take risks, Cuba is fast becoming the tourist destination of choice.
True, the circulation of U.S. dollars — legalized in 1993 and the subject of a USA Today feature just this past Monday — has resulted in renewed gaps in Cuban society between the dollar-rich and the peso-poor. Still, the cash-strapped government has managed to preserve the Revolution’s achievements in public health, education and housing; unbelievably, not a single school or hospital has been closed, as confirmed by repeated U.N. reports.
And the longer these advances last, the greater the embarrassment for those who proclaim that only the U.S. model leads to successful human development.
The debates of the last few months over the anachronistic and unsuccessful blockade further underscore this fear. Representatives of U.S. agriculture have increasingly pushed for the right to sell our country’s foodstuffs to the Cuban market, but there are no signs that Washington is willing to budge on its Cold War policy.
Could it be that Congress and our president have read the reports of economists that Cuba could immediately make as much as $1 billion a year selling its vaunted high-tech medicines to the United States alone? Clearly the potential profits to our farmers constitute a lower priority than the need to pinch Cuba’s economy “until it screams,” to quote Kissinger’s strategy of destabilizing Chile’s civil socialist government in the early 1970s.
This fear has affected even military leaders, who glory in bombing Iraq or the former Yugoslavia with impunity but had no response in 1996 when Cuba shot down two planes after they dive-bombed Havana with anti-government leaflets.
Invading and overthrowing Cuba’s government by force seems improbable, given that conservative Pentagon estimates put the number of U.S. casualties at 50,000. Once you take into account that Castro’s government has a policy of providing every household with a gun and a land mine, even that figure seems suspiciously small.
But most of all, the continuing defiance or “misbehavior” of Cuba rankles in the minds of U.S. leaders who have grown used to their dominance and virtual ownership of all of Latin America for generations.
Americans in the 1990s have been made to believe that this is one world, and therefore our world. What greater embarrassment to this passing delusion than the example of a land just 90 miles from our shores, yet beyond the limits of our empire?
It is fear that accounts for, in the words of Cuban photographer Roberto Salas, “the continuing obsession with one man and his little island.” To those who believe that our form of government is the right way for the Cubans and the rest of the underdeveloped world, perhaps it’s time to listen to the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize:
“Let the U.S. show them a better way of life, instead of ramming it down their throats.”
Ronald Kim’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of Pennsylvania paper, the Daily Pennsylvanian.